This post is part of a series outlining the 11 principles detailed in David’s book, Heed Your Call, which helps modern-day heroes (entrepreneurs) integrate their business and spiritual lives.

Empathy happens when, during any interaction, we immerse ourselves in another’s life and construct an accurate view of their challenges, desires, and struggles. It happens when we travel through their day and experience their fears and aspirations. It happens when we pause and deeply focus on what it feels like to be them.

Deep empathy is a critical component to success in life, let alone at work. Tweet This Quote

Deep empathy is a critical component to success in life, let alone at work. It’s my perspective that we’re all connected at some level. For example, at the end of any yoga class, we say Namaste, which means, “The divine light in me sees and honors the divine light in you.” It’s more than just a little salutation before you leave the mat. That phrase and ideology exists in every spiritual belief system and religion across cultures. When we start to allow ourselves to have that connection and awareness, it becomes easy to walk in someone else’s shoes.

From that place, we can make decisions about consumers and customers that are well informed. The intent of business is to create and give value to others, to give people what they deeply desire and what satisfies their needs.

As an entrepreneur, drive your business with the consumer as the focus, while staying aware of your customer. Tweet This Quote

To do this, it’s important to make the distinction between consumers and customers. At Meriwether Group, we abide by the phrase, “consumer focused and customer aware.” For example, Nike’s consumer is the athlete, basketball player, or sports-fashion person. Their customer, however, is Foot Locker, Finish Line, or the running specialty store. As an entrepreneur, you always want to drive your business, brand, or product with the consumer as the focus, while staying aware of who your customers are.

Once you recognize this, embracing empathy allows you to really deeply connect with your consumers. It’s critical for any business to do a deep-dive with clients around who are the key consumers for your product or service.

For example, consider Nike again. To get more specific, their consumer groups might range from the elite Olympic athlete to the urban, African-American male between 12-16 years old who wants to wear high tops because they’re cool, to the weekend warrior, to the soccer mom. Each group is vastly different from one other, but you have to name all of them. Find out where they shop, what magazines they read, what cars they drive, what they like to eat, where they like to vacation, what makes them happy, what worries them, and so on. Get into the depths of who they are, and let that inform the decisions you make.

It’s critical to allow empathy to steward the decisions you make as they relate to your consumer. Tweet This Quote

If Nike has a great footwear designer who makes the most kick-ass basketball shoe for urban, inner-city African-American males between 12-16 years old, and she puts that shoe in suburban neighborhood Foot Lockers and assigns her marketing team to promote the shoe in ESPN Magazine, the shoe won’t sell.

Everyone would say, “Wow, that’s bizarre, the shoe was beautiful—why didn’t it sell?” No matter if she nailed the shoe, the designer didn’t use empathy or go out of her way to connect with her consumers. If she had, she would have understood that these 12-16 year olds don’t go to malls in suburbia or read ESPN Magazine, for example. It’s critical to allow empathy to steward the decisions you make as they relate to your consumer.

These mindful and united business interactions have a name in our modern vernacular: compassionate consumerism. I often refer to them as intuitive analytics, the ability to engage using strategy and logic while weaving in deep empathy and universal connectivity. Using this approach moves us closer to mutually beneficial results—the designer would have been happy that her shoe sold, and the 12-16 year old African-American male would have been happy to buy it in an urban shop near where he lives.

Actively listen to your consumers, so you can instinctively feel their desires, challenges, and dreams. Tweet This Quote

Put empathy and intuitive analytics into practice. In your business interactions, go beyond just hearing what another is saying. Actively listen so you can instinctively feel that person’s desires, challenges, and dreams. Ask questions. Spend time with your consumers.

Embracing empathy as a tool serves us well in business because by stepping into our consumer’s shoes, we can tailor our involvement with them while remaining emotionally neutral. We can truly engage with their best interest in mind because we are not operating from a place of, “what’s in it for me?” This is the only way our businesses will reach their fullest potential.

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About the author

David Howitt

David Howitt

David, author of the integrated business book, Heed Your Call, is the founding CEO of Meriwether Group—a private equity firm offering business advising and accelerator services. He is an accomplished entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience providing business strategy and brand counsel to thriving start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 100 companies.

  • David Howitt

    I just want to thank Brittany and the whole team at Unreasonable for this awesome forum and for what you do in the world. I also want to thank the readers and those that have taken time to submit comments to my previous notes. I read them all and really appreciate the feedback. We are all on the journey together and if we can help each other to think of ways we can disrupt the status quo – cut through the noise and change ourselves and the world for the better – then we have done our work. Cheers, David Howitt

  • Max Mantey

    This is very true. A business I work with does a great job of this. Our consumer is outdoor enthusiasts. (Outdoor backpacks is the product) but, we also are aware of our customer being stores like REI. We only put certain packs in stores like these because we know some will do better than others. Or, they might only have enough room on the shelves so we have to be strategic at which one we display. The more people you keep in mind the better off your business will be!

  • Matt Goodman

    I can see this new level of analytics being the future of big data. Taking into consideration the places that people like to vacation is a new way of looking into someones personality and in my opinion is revolutionary. These innovative ways of understanding a target market in order to maximize revenue are the way of the future. At this point in time a company that can get on the forefront of deeper analytics in new areas will have a leg up on their competition.

  • Reid Trauernicht

    Considering that customers are what drives a company I’m surprised this hasn’t been a point of discussion earlier. That being said I believe big data might be the reasoning for this. People constantly want to know how we can get the right product to the right person at the right time. I think this where the concept of customer awareness and being customer focused comes in handy. It doesn’t take a billion dollars worth of servers and analysts to decipher this. It takes considerate people. That’s what a budget entrepreneurs should look into. People need to realize people are people not just numbers, and that should be a positive step forward.

  • Hjordis Robinson

    I agree with Reid that people are always far more beneficial than technology. Although it provides us with new and groundbreaking material, people are at the heart of consumer intelligence. Big data will always help businesses get ahead of their competition, but if there is no personal interaction with consumers, it will be impossible to to truly know what each individual wants in a product.

  • David Kidd

    “consumer focused and customer aware.” This phrase really impacted me. Consumers have been all too generalized by simply looking at big data or search results. I believe we need to take our analytics to a personal level and truly promote personal interactions with our consumers. As you stated empathy is the key to really drive your product and I agree that this is lacking in the modern market. Bravo on a brilliant article

  • Adam Bundy

    I really like how deep the analytics go. It’s not just who are our customers? It is which customers are interested in which product lines. By narrowing down like this companies can really nail product sales as well as marketing. This deeper look into consumer demographics has huge potential.

  • Sarah Nelson

    I never really thought how important empathy was in this sense. This article changed my perspective about how in order to be successful, it is crucial that emphasize with customers and focus on the customers rather than individual gain. This article really changed by perspective on entrepreneurship.

  • Gregory Clemmons

    This is similar with a discussion that one of my classes had with an entrepreneur that came to tell his story to our class. He also highlighted the importance of going directly to the costumer that you are selling to and ask them “What problem can our product help you solve?”. This customer focused approach is truly important in the business world.

  • Gregory Clemmons

    This is similar with a discussion that one of my classes had with an entrepreneur that came to tell his story to our class. He also highlighted the importance of going directly to the costumer that you are selling to and ask them “What problem can our product help you solve?”. This customer focused approach is truly important in the business world.

  • Daniel Hartman

    Im glad that your perspective has changed in this way Sarah, it is good for business people to see how empathy can be good for profit.

  • Rachel Rodriguez

    I think this article brings new light to how we think typically think business run and how they actually run. Don’t get me wrong I do think there are people out there doing things just for their personal benefit. I also think that most entrepreneurs are out there because they are trying to solve a problem or help people better their lives in some way. I think that for a business to be successful they need this connection or empathy as the author puts it, and if the entrepreneur losses site of this it could limit the entrepreneurs potential. I think that entrepreneurs always need to remember that the customers are the ones that brought them to where they are, and they are what is going to take that company to the next level.

  • Elisa

    I think this article is enlightening because of the way it kind of separates consumers with customers. To me consumers are a broader scope, they are a stereotype to who is going to by your product. But when I hear customer it is more of who is willing to walk into a store, buy your product, and you NEED to know on a deeper level. I learned in my entrepreneurship class of the difference of fulfilling a inconvenience and then fulfilling a problem, and how there is a big difference. In order to do this you have to know your customer on a deeper level, then people will want to buy your product. You have to know what is affordable and what the pros and cons would be to them, if they bought your idea/ invention. In order to do this getting to know them is key to success.

  • Danielle Devereux

    I definitely agree with you Elisa! Although before I read this article, I wouldn’t have thought there was a difference to consumers and customers. I agree with how you describe a customer versus a consumer. Companies and stores really need to focus more on the customer when making a specific line for a target market or something that does not apply to most of the American population.

  • Teddy Grebenc

    I think this article is great! As a marketing student I feel as if we do have a duty to our consumers to give them the best quality product that we can without leading them astray. That’s not to say that businesses don’t do that, in fact many do to make a profit, but what I think they forget is the their business is just brick and mortar making some kind of product or performing some kind of services, it’s the consumer buying the products that defines the business.

  • danlorusso

    I really like how this post defines the distinction between customers and consumers. I think that it is important for a business to study the needs and interests of their desired target market. Having empathy for consumers you are trying to attract can be a huge difference maker as explained in this article. Empathy truly does allow the company making a product to step into their customers shoes and discover their needs.

  • McKenna Solomon

    I’m not sure I’d equate empathy to understanding ones target market. Empathy seems much more spiritual and emotional. Empathy is indeed trying to understand how another person views or experiences the world, and has an element of connection. While businesses strive to understand the lives and perspectives of their customers, their concept of connection is much different so their concept of empathy would be different from the empathy one person experiences for another person. This leaves us with the question: is empathy contextual or is it personal? Can it exist outside of the spiritual and emotional connection. In a way, yes it can, but a businesses motives to empathize are very different from the motives that an individual might have in empathizing with another.

  • Kade Hanson

    I agree that there is a difference in the two. To me empathy comes from the culture you were brought up in. You learn it from your experiences. I do not know if a business can fully have empathy for something. To me there is a gap between a persons empathy and business empathy.

  • David Howitt

    McKenna – thanks for your note and thoughts. For me, I try not to separate the spiritual world and the business world. I just have one world! As you may know, the word “Yoga” means “union.” I like to try to have the Board Room and the Ashram be the same place. My experience is that when we integrate all of our experiences and use all of our tools in every aspect of our lives (spiritual, emotional and business) that we have the highest degree of happiness, authenticity and abundance.

  • Chris White

    I agree with you Rachel. I feel like empathy (in part) helps to keep entrepreneurs focused on creating positive social change rather than simply channeling their innovations towards corporate or personal profit.

  • Nicholas Carter

    Dan, I couldn’t agree with you more. I really enjoy this article. I think it is really important for businesses to show empathy to consumers to provide them with the best possible product and something that truly solves a problem. Successful businesses talk to their consumers and provide them with exactly what they need.

  • Michael Kaelin

    I agree as well. This is a tough topic to put a black and white answer on because it really depends on your experiences. I think that people that are a part of a business can feel empathy for something but the business itself does not.

  • Jessica

    I used this post as a call to action for class, as I thought it would be an interesting approach to do a call to action that targets the business owner, or general business person. I created and printed out fliers and left them in the office at my apartment complex, in the lobby of the office-building I work in, and in an office-building lobby of a client we work with at my job. I didn’t really expect an action to occur necessarily, but I really wanted to spread this idea that when doing business, it is okay to think about people and how they feel about your business, your operation, and your product/service– that empathy is important in the business world. So often, it seems as if people are shocked when one puts emotion into their work, but I think that it’s an important tool to use when connecting with customers and consumers. The only thing I wanted to happen as a result of this call to action were for people to take the fliers and read them. I placed 25 fliers in each place, a total of 75; I did this 5 days before the end of the call to action, and when I went back today to each place, I had a total of 18 fliers left over, meaning that 57 fliers were touched and seen by people passing through the office settings. I would say this was successful, as this is really just something that people need to hear and read so that they hopefully take some of it into their business practices. I was really excited that people were paying attention, and most importantly, that the word was spread because it is so frequent that the consumer is the only focus, and the customer gets left behind, but in the world of business, every player is key and they’re all connected through work and empathetic decisions.

  • Michael Kaelin

    For my call to action, I posted this article on my Facebook page. I decided to post this on my page, like my first call to action, because I have a wide range of friends from different parts of the country. This wide arrange of friends allows me to get differing opinions on subjects and I thought I could get some good responses and opinions on it.
    The results of this call were as I expected. I received a few likes from friends and ended up having a conversation with one of the people who liked it. The person was one of my friends who go to Regis University with me. We talked about how empathy on the scale of an entire business can be very difficult to achieve. What we agreed on is that empathy is key when it comes to the people who are a part of the company. Like a sports franchise, there is only so much a business can do, but what makes the company is the people who represent it. We also spoke about how companies must adjust their strategies and model to be for their consumers and the customers that they serve. It is good to see that companies today are trying to focus more on the people and less on the profit.

  • Elisa

    For my Call to action I posted this article along with this comment in order to share my thoughts on consumers vs. customers with hopefully a broad range of people at marketing/ sales startups along with the people who visit their facebook pages.

  • Katie Frank

    I agree with Daniel, empathy is often over looked and over shadowed by greed. What I feel most people don’t realize is the pay off from showing empathy is much greater than actions made through a more selfish agenda.

  • Samuel Cannon

    Empathy is often overlooked in business. CEO’s and executives begin to only see dollar signs rather than the actual people they are doing business with. Being able to operate with a certain level of empathy reflects both how you as an individual, and as a company as a whole do business. It is vital that we focus on customers in order to continue and sustain the growth necessary for success. Having the most awareness for our customers will ensure we are doing business in a way that encourages consumers to continue to do business with us.

  • Ann Matthews

    My favorite quote in this article was “Deep empathy is a critical component to success in life, let alone at work” because I truly believe in it. Empathy is essential in creating meaningful relationships and is helpful in understanding social issues our society faces today.

  • Robert Neville

    I full agree that empathy is essential to creating a meaningful relationship. In order for that relationship to flourish we must put ourselves in other peoples shoes. I believe this also transfers over to the business world, and that a CEO must start viewing their employees as human beings and not just as somebody that can help them pay off the bills.

  • Ann Matthews

    In response to this article, I chose to do my call-to-action by asking 10 of my friends, five boys and five girls, to read the article and respond with what they thought about it. I printed out a copy of the article and asked them to read and respond to it within three days. This proved to be a really helpful way to get their responses because they all had enough time to reflect on the article and really think about the concepts presented.

    The boys I asked to reflect on the article related the most to the part reflecting on Nike’s potential advertising towards the wrong consumers. They said that a product’s advertising sticks out the most to them when they can relate to the ad and when it’s directed towards their lifestyles. As a group of five 22-year old, white, upper-class men, their lifestyles are very different from teenage inner-city African-American boys, and therefore would react differently to ads that are directed towards one group than the other.

    A quote that stuck out to most of the girls was “Empathy happens when, during any interaction, we immerse ourselves in another’s life and construct an accurate view of their challenges, desires, and struggles.” They believed that it was very important for company’s to market their products directly towards their target consumers so that the consumers feel that the companies are genuinely concerned with their interests.

  • Robert Neville

    “Actively listen to your consumers, so you can instinctively feel their desires, challenges, and dreams.” this quote really stood out to me especially after working with a large consumer base this summer. In the beginning to me it began all about just how much I could sell to the consumer but by the end and having so many returning customers, I learned about them and know about them not only ensures they will come back but also helps sales.

  • Michael Potter

    This quote stuck out to me the most as well. I too worked a sales job this summer and my emphasis originally was hitting my goal by reaching as many customers as possible. I would be making a ton of calls each day in order to raise my revenue. I didn’t realize until now that I was actually doing it wrong. Quality over quantity has never made more sense to me. Sure you can sell more by getting to more customers, but in the long run the better relationship you have with this customer will benefit you if you are focused and aware like this articles stresses. I am glad I read this article and super grateful to have learned this lesson.

  • Logan Coffman

    Thanks for your comments Michael! There seems to be a pretty consistent theme in life and in business that for maximum effectiveness we should prioritize research, planning, and empathy into specific goals rather than simply holding efficiency as the only metric – or sheer numbers. I liken it to applying for jobs, better to apply to a strong few than a weak many! Check out these additional posts on by Unreasonable covering similar topics.